The Vikings hailed from Scandinavia and were also known as Norsemen. They earned their branding as víkingr, which meant pirate in the early Scandinavian languages, through hit-and-run raids from their longships on cities and towns along the European coasts. Raids were horrifically violent and were characterised by plundering and killing.
These pagan Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes were members of the seafaring warriors who raided and colonized great expanses of Europe beginning in the 9th century and continuing until well into the 1200s. Why and how they invaded and raided at will was largely due to the undeniable fact that their victims were so enticingly helpless. The Vikings had out populated their lands back home and the pickings were much like low-hanging fruit to these innate warriors.
The Viking Raids
The Viking raids kicked off the Viking Age in Britain with the murderous attack on the abbey of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England in June 793 CE. The Vikings went on to launch military expeditions in East Anglia in 865 CE, York in 867 CE, and Mercia in 868 CE. By 871 CE, Alfred the Great had only one option and that was to pay Halfdane to leave Wessex. The Viking presence in Britain markedly influenced the development of the national language, culture, and law.
Although initial contact was through the pillaging of those religious institutions, abbeys, and priories conveniently positioned near the coast, it was soon appreciated that Britain had expanses of land that could be cultivated. Settlement in Britain, therefore, came about when these Viking warriors returned to Britain with their families to make a living cultivating the earth.
Just two years after the Norsemen raided Lindisfarne, they made landfall on the Irish coast in 795, plundering frequently until 920. They took the two fortified two ports of Annagassan and Dublin in 838 and invaded the north in the 840s. Norse rulers took Waterford in 914 and Limerick in 920. Over the years the Vikings became traders and invigorated the Irish commercial towns, particularly Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick. The Vikings did well to establish maritime strongholds in Ireland but failed to dominate the country as they had in eastern England or northwestern France.
The Vikings also invaded France, beginning with a raid via the River Seine in 820 CE, with the most dramatic being the Siege of Paris in 845 CE and 885 to 886 CE. Charles the Bald paid the Norse chieftain Reginherus (believed to be Ragnar Lothbrok) to leave Paris. The Viking Chieftain Rollo however raided the French countryside years later. Rollo was subsequently granted what would become Normandy – the land of the Norsemen – in an agreement to protect the city of Paris and its surroundings against future Viking raids. This arrangement meant the end of such raids although incursions continued into West Francia.
The Vikings were more than warriors
Vikings were not just invaders, being notorious also as innovative shipbuilders and intrepid explorers of the globe. The Vikings’ skill at shipbuilding may be due to their geographic positioning along with a remarkable extent of coastlines and islands in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They depended on the sea for travel and transportation and built ships to match these needs, including long, slender, shallow-draft warships and wider vessels designed for trade and transport. Their robust ships held their own against strong winds and all that the North Sea and North Atlantic threw at them. Settlers and their equipment were transported by sea westwards to the islands in the North Atlantic while sturdier merchant ships transported cargo. Fishing boats, ferries, and boats for sailing in inland rivers and lakes were all necessary since their culture centered predominantly around creeks and streams leading to the sea. All were clinker-built with hulls of overlapping planks, rivetted with iron spikes, and waterproofed with caulking made up of animal hair. As seafarers they explored extensively, visiting Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and North Africa. Long journeys overland for trade purposes included traversing through Russia, as far south as Constantinople, and further east to Baghdad in Iraq. Voyages were taken to Iceland and beyond, across the Atlantic Ocean to North America.
Famous Vikings changed the world and here are twelve of the most famous.
Likely of the most famous of all Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok was immortalised in stories written down by the Vikings known as “sagas”. In the sagas, real people and events were regaled including Ragnar’s 9th-century raids on Francia and Anglo-Saxon England. Through these, he was awarded legendary status as well as the nickname of Shaggy Breeches. According to the tales told by the skalds of Iceland, 350 years after his supposed death, this infamous son of the Swedish King Sigurd Hring and a Norwegian princess had three wives.
Lagertha was his first wife. She was a Nordic shield maiden who fought with Lothbrok as a warrior to avenge his grandfather’s death in Norway. Legend has it that Lothbrok slain a giant snake to gain the hand of Thora, his second wife. His nickname of Shaggy Breeches apparently stems from his decision to boil his cow-hide trousers in tar to protect him from this giant serpent.
The third, Aslaug, bore his equally interesting sons: Ivar the Boneless, Bjorn Ironside, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. She is apparently the daughter of the legendary dragon slayer, Sigurd, and the shieldmaiden, Brynhildr. Lothbrok was charmed by her smart response to a riddle he put to her which led to his marriage proposal.
In battle, Lothbrok resorted to blitzkrieg-like tactics to terrorise, demoralise and overwhelm his enemies and he was known to only fight with odds set in his favour. It is widely believed that legends of Lothbrok might be based on the Danish Viking leader, Reginheri. Reginheri took siege of Paris in 845 and Lothbrok therefore simply attacked the smaller of Charles the Bald’s two armies, annihilating them while their comrades watched helplessly. Charles the Bald had bigger fish to fry and is said to have bribed Ragnar’s fleets with 7,000 liters of silver (approximately 2.5 tons). Some believe Ragnar succumbed here while others prefer to believe he moved onto the Irish coast and settled near Dublin before his death in the mid-850s.
Lothbrok’s fame was used as a means of political propaganda, exaggerating the threat he posed to impress upon people any wins against him all the more. The mythology surrounding him only exponentialized after his death and tales of his might inadvertently lent ambiguity to the line between fact and fiction.
Speaking of his death, even this is argued. A Danish historian cites his end in the northwest of England where he was captured by Anglo-Saxon King Ælla of Northumbria, to die in a snake pit. During this ordeal, Lothbrok is quoted as foretelling the revenge his sons would reek by saying: “How the little piglets would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers”. In true Viking, the legendary man awaited his arrival at Valhalla, the great feasting hall for slain Viking warriors, with eager anticipation.
Leif was born in Iceland around A.D. 970 to his mother, Thjodhild, and his father, the great Viking, Erik the Red. He was a great Icelandic/Norse explorer of his time and is credited with founding the first European settlement, known today as Greenland. He is also known to be the first European to walk on the shores of North America – a half a century before Christopher Columbus.
Two stories are in the rounds as to how Erikson came to be in North America as the first European there. The first story recounts the mistaken discovery. Much like Columbus, he supposedly came upon the New World in 1000 CE after sailing off course while on his way to Greenland. He and his crew planted crops and built a settlement there which they named Vinland (Land of Wine), in what is thought to be modern-day Newfoundland.
Another rendition penned from the Grænlendinga saga speaks of Leif hearing of the land to the west from an Icelandic trader, Bjarni Herjólfsson, who first sighted mainland North America when his Greenland-bound ship blew westward off course in around about 985. After following the Atlantic coastline of eastern Canada, the ship returned to Greenland without the crew going ashore. Leif Eriksson then set out with a crew of about 35 men in the year 1000 to find this talked-of sighting.
Either way, a very interesting story leads up to this discovery, though, and this is it in part. Erik the Red, Leif’s father, captured a German who went on to raise Leif as a child and who taught Leif to read, write, and trade. Erik was later banished from Iceland for three years as well as from Norway and so he settled in what is now Greenland with his family. Erik the Red actually set up the first permanent Norse settlements in Greenland. After his three years, Erik sailed between Iceland and Greenland, learning much about deep-sea sailing and navigation. He was about 24 when he captained his first major voyage around 1000 CE when he sailed to Norway to present King Olaf Tryggvason I of the mainland Norse with gifts. The king converted Leif to Christianity and tasked him with Christianizing the natives of Greenland where Leif’s mother later established the first Christian church at Brattahild, Erik the Red’s estate. Leif however reportedly went astray en route, and that is how he landed up in North America.
The “Saga of Erik the Red” cites Leif as stopping in the Hebrides in 1000Ce on his way from Greenland to Norway. Here he had a son, Thorgils, with Thorgunna, the daughter of a local chief. They were never married. After Erik the Red’s death, Leif became chief of the Greenland settlement. Thorgunna apparently sent his son Thorgils to live in Greenland where he proved quite unpopular. Leif went on to earn respect as a powerful chief but the Viking sagas make no mention of his death, and so it is assumed that he passed away in Greenland between 1019 and 1025, soon after passing on his power to his sons. Leif’s presumably legitimate son, Thorkel Leifsson, had taken over as chief by 1025 when his father died.
Erik the Red
Erik Thorvaldsson was nicknamed Erik the Red as a young boy because of his red hair and flaming beard and his brazen and volatile nature. Renowned as the founder of the first European settlement on Greenland c. 985, he was also the father of the intrepid Viking explorer, Leif Erikson.
The Icelanders’ sagas have Erik leaving Norway for western Iceland when he was ten, when his father, Thorvald, was exiled for manslaughter. Erik married Thjodhild Jörundsdóttir sometime after he lost his father. They settled in Haukadale, which he named Eriksstead. Life was good until 980 when he ran into a conflict situation which he settled through manslaughter. He and his family were banished from Haukdale and they moved northwards.
Erik found himself similarly exiled from Iceland around the year 982 for murdering several people, using the same method of conflict resolution his father had chosen. He ambushed Thorgest, a fellow settler, and his clan over a dispute over his setstokkr – valuable large beams. Two of Thorgest’s sons were killed and the village court met, declaring Erik to be banished for three years.
This led him to explore westward where he found Greenland. It was around the year 982 when he sailed from Snæfellsjökull, a westernmost point of Iceland, with a small group of men to land on the opposite shore of Greenland. They rounded the southern tip to settle on an island at the mouth of Eriksfjord – known today as Tunulliarfik Fjord – near Julianehåb now known as Qaqortoq. For the next two years, they explored the west and north, naming places as they went. Erik built his manor house in the inner area of Eriksfjord and named his property Brattahlid which means Steep Slope. He came up with the name of Greenland when naming the country, with the understanding that the name would be attractive to settlers.
When Erik returned to Iceland in 985 or 986, he persuaded many locals to relocate to Greenland. Twenty-five ships sailed from Iceland with only fourteen of these finding safe passage and landing at Eystribygd – Eastern Settlement. With an initial settlement of 400 to 500 people, the new colony never grew to more than 2,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. Erik the Red and his wife and four children, sons Leif, Thorvald, and Thorstein, and daughter Freydis lived in the settlement very happily. The settlers survived a deadly epidemic with the colonies eventually dying out around the time of Columbus.
Erik is said to have died following a fall from a horse which led to complications from the injuries soon after the turn of the millennium.
Ivar the Boneless
The son of Ragnar Lothbrok and Aslaug, Ivar may have had a hereditary skeletal condition such as osteogenesis imperfecta to thank for his nickname which caused his legs to easily fracture or an inability to walk. This may either have been a condition or. He had a fearsome reputation and was known to be a Berserker, a champion Norse warrior, who fought in a trance-like fury. He and his two brothers successfully invaded many Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which brought notable claims to fame. He differed from earlier Viking raiders who invaded with the sole intent to plunder in that Ivar sought conquests.
Little is known of Ivar before he left his home for Britain. In 855 he led the Sheppey expedition to occupy an isle near close to the mouth of the River Thames. He accompanied the Danish king of Dublin, Olaf the White, in battles in Ireland during the 850s and together they had short-lived alliances with certain Irish rulers. They went on to plunder and campaign throughout the early 860s.
News of the Northumbrian king Aella casting Ragnar Lothbrok into a pit of venomous snakes spurred his sons to avenge his death. Ivar and his brothers Halfdan and Hubba led the Great Heathen Army in an invasion of Great Britain in the year 865. Ivar’s forces met little resistance when they landed in the kingdom of East Anglia. They traveled to Northumbria and took the capital city of York in 866. Aella had been deposed by Osbert in the meantime as Northumbrian king. Neither Osbert nor Aella were captured then, but both were killed in the second battle in March 867. Certain accounts reveal how Aella was subjected to a horrifically gruesome torture execution by the vengeful Vikings.
Ivar led the Vikings to Nottingham in the kingdom of Mercia but they withdrew without entering into battle when the Mercian king Burgred received assistance from Wessex. The Vikings stayed at York until 869 when they returned to East Anglia to defeat King Edmund in battle.
Ivar entered what is now Scotland with Olaf the White in a renewed partnership in 870, returning triumphantly a year later to Dublin. Ivar was by this time known as the “king of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain. He died in 873.
The Viking leader Guthrum Borgsson was the son of Jarl Borg and his ex-wife Torvi. He was made king in East Anglia and was a major opponent of King Alfred. Guthrum appeared in England in 871 as the leader of the ‘great summer army’ that joined the forces at Reading under the command of Halfdan. The army split up in 875 and Guthrum returned to Wessex with his contingent. In 878 he would have captured Alfred at Chippenham had he not been defeated by Alfred at the battle of Edington later in the same year. Guthrum was later baptized as Athelstan, and Alfred was named as his godfather. He retired with his forces to rule East Anglia, issuing coins in his baptismal name while there where he remained until his death in 890. Guthrum Borgsson is known to have been buried at Headleage, which may today be Hadleigh in Suffolk.
Cnut Sweynson was the illegitimate son of Sweyn Haraldson, King of Denmark, and Gunhild, a Polish princess. Gunhild was Sweyn’s consort and mistress and, although there was no formal marriage arrangement, their sons Harald and Canute became the King’s heirs. Sweyn married Sigrid the Haughty who was the widow of King Eric of Sweden in a bid to ensure an alliance with Sweden. Gunhild had to leave Sweyn’s court when Cnut was only two or three years old. Gunhild left Cnut in the court of her brother.
Cnut was the King of England from 1016, King of Denmark from 1018, and King of Norway from 1028 until his death in 1035. The three kingdoms united under Cnut’s rule are known as the North Sea Empire. Canute I (ca. 995-1035) united the English and Danish people of England to become the first ruler to rule over all of England since the fall of Rome.
The relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes was dominated by violence which escalated when Ethelred I took the English throne in 975. Upheaval and civil war between 975 and 1015 proved pertinent for not only England but also for Canute. The northeast section of England was known as the Danelaw and was the largest Viking settlement, occupied for over a century by Danes who were accepted by the local English residents. The tribal leaders laid the groundwork for a Viking king to unite them. Sweyn was merciless with his constant raids upon the kingdom of England between 994 and 1007 and again from 1009. Cnut’s brother Harald was regent of Denmark during their father’s absence. In 1013, Cnut stood with his father’s fleet at Gains-borough in northeastern England while his father subdued northern and eastern England. In January 1014, Ethelred fled to Normandy.
February the 3rd, 1014 saw events set in motion with Sweyn succumbing after a brief illness. Harald was crowned King of Denmark. Sweyn’s host or army at Gainsborough recognised Cnut as his father’s successor in England which showed their faith in the 20-year old Cnut. However, to claim the English throne, the youngster had to be accepted by the English and Danish nobles.
The English nobles conspired against Cnut and had their exiled King Ethelred return that April with a large army. Cnut was successfully driven from England in May with no hope for victory, and in so doing lost the Danelaw. He returned to Denmark where his brother refused to redivide the inheritance although they agreed to support one another’s endeavours to secure their kingdoms.
Cnut and his foster father Thorkil and brother Earl Eric, regent of Norway, overran the English territories of Wessex and Mercia the following year. Olaf Haraldson, the Stout, took advantage of Eric’s absence to attempt to take the throne of Norway. Eric landed up getting his chance to bring Norway under his sway only fifteen years later so preoccupied were he and Cnut with their business in England. In 1015, Ethelred lost Wessex and early the following year Northumbria surrendered to Earl Eric of Norway’s control with Cnut planning to attack London by that April. This plan was pre-empted by the death of Ethelred on April 23 and by the end of May in excess of three-fourths of the kingdom had submitted to Cnut as their chosen leader. He took the summer to besiege London and in Autumn he attacked East Anglia. Edmund’s army attacked Cnut’s army at Ashington 0n October 18, 1016, which led to the Compact of Olney that halved England with Edmund getting Wessex and Canute retaining London, Mercia, and Northumbria. With Edmund’s death on November 30, Cnut became the undisputed leader of England and the country knew peace for the first time in seven years and the English nobles recognised Cnut as England’s king.
Cnut’s first act as king was to divide the kingdom into four great earldoms. He made Eric the Earl of Northumbria, and Thorkil the Earl of East Anglia and regent in Denmark in his absence, and retained hold of Wessex. He also established lesser earldoms along with the Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish marches as protection against raids.
Cnut had a marriage to Aelfgifu of Aelfhelm since 1013 which was not sanctioned within the Christian church and together they had two sons. In July 1017, he married Ethelred’s widow, Emma. A precondition of this union was that his two sons by Aelfgifu, Harald Harefoot and Sweyn, would not stand before any sons produced within his marriage with Emma or Emma’s sons by Ethelred. Emma produced two children by Cnut – a son, Harthacanute, and a daughter, Gunhild.
Cnut ruled in England as a Christian king, with his nobles advised by bishops and abbots, and transferring holy relics from London to Canterbury in June 1023. He outlawed Thorkil as a pagan in 1021, likely to satisfy the Christian church in England. Although he and Thorkil reconciled two years later, Thorkil never returned to England.
In 1025, Cnut left Harthacanute as regent under the guidance of Earl Ulf when he left Denmark to return to England. The ambitious Ulf provoked a sect of Danes to rebel against the regent and declare their support for Olaf. Cnut led a large English force into Denmark to suppress the rebellion and to press war against Olaf. Cnut successfully suppressed the rebellion and forgave Ulf, but Cnut suffered defeat against Olaf in battle in September 1026 at the mouth of the Holy River. Olaf fled to Sweden for the winter, regardless.
Cnut used Earl Ulf’s assassination in a church during the war as an excuse to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 1027 to seek forgiveness from Pope John XIX in hopes of reparation with the Roman Catholic Church. By 1028, he had returned to Denmark where at an Erething council meeting he was declared the true king of Norway. He named his nephew, Haakon, earl of Norway and vice-regent, Harthacanute the King of Denmark, and Harald Thorkilson the chief advisor.
Cnut succumbed to suspected jaundice on November 12, 1035, at Shaftesbury in England and his remains were buried at Winchester.
Eric Haraldsson, the son of Norway’s first king, Harald Fairhair, was bestowed the nickname Bloodaxe by murdering all but one of his brothers. Born into the Viking lifestyle, he enthusiastically took part in bloody raids across Europe from the age of 12. He learned soon enough to distinguish himself most effectively in the Viking community through violence and was regarded as a barbarian and murderous tyrant whose savagery was disturbing even by Viking standards.
Eric met and married Gunnhild, a witch and the daughter of the king of Denmark, Gorm in Gamli, while on an expedition. The Icelandic sagas recount him taking the throne of Norway after this father’s death, killing four older brothers to hold onto the crown. His younger brother ousted him, and Eric relocated to Britain to live in a palace in York as the King of Northumbria in 947. The Northumbrians however went on to turn on Eric to make reparations to the English King Eadred. Then they changed allegiance again and accepted Olaf Sihtricsson as their ruler. But Eric Olaf out only to be expelled again in 954 for King Eadred of Wessex and England to take control. York and Northumbria remained part of a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom from then on.
Legend has it that Eric Bloodaxe was laid to rest at the Rey Cross at Stainmore but some argue that this mark is a boundary stone halfway between Penrith and Barnard Castle. The skaldic poem Eiríksmàl (‘The Lay of Eric’) describes Eric’s heroic entrance into Valhalla after his death at Stainmore:
What dream is that? quoth Odin, I thought to rise ere day-break To make Valhall
ready For troops of the slain; I roused the champions, Bade them rise swiftly Benches
to strew, To wash beer-flagons; The Valkyries to pour wine, As a prince was coming.
King Harald III Sigurdsson of Norway was better known as Harold Hardrada, born in 1015 to Asta Gudbrandsdatter and her second husband, Sigur Syr. Hardrada translates to mean hard ruler, a title Harald aspired to as the last great Viking ruler, ruling from 1046 through a period of peace and progress. He lived up to the name with his aggressive martial approach to leadership and his preferred brutal settlement of disputes. He introduced Christianity to his people, a fact that does not ring true with his fierce reputation.
Before landing on English shores in 1066 where he proved to be the last Viking king to try to seize the English throne, he traveled from Norway to Russia, Iraq, Jerusalem, and Sicily. At the age of fifteen, he tried to help his half-brother, King Olaf II, to regain power after being overthrown by Cnut. But the king fell in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Hardrada was severely injured in the battle and escaped to Staraya Ladoga, Russia, in a bad way. He was given refuge by Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise in 1031 and went on to serve two years in Yaroslav’s army before traveling south to Byzantium.
In 1045, Harald Hardrada learned that his nephew, Magnus, son of Olaf II, wore the crown as King of Norway and Denmark. Having accumulated many riches, Harald allied with Sweyn II to attack Magnus. Magnus offered an acceptable compromise and he and Harald went on to co-rule Norway with Sweyn inheriting the Kingdom of Denmark after Magnus’ death. Two years later, Hardrada became the one true king of Norway following the death of King Magnus.
Harald was killed by an arrow to the neck at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England after facing defeat as a result of King Harold’s surprise attack.
Olaf was born to Astrid and Tryggvi Olafsson, chieftain in southeastern Norway, and great-grandson of the Norwegian king Harald I Fairhair. His father was killed by the Norwegian ruler Harald II Graycloak soon after Olaf’s birth. Legend has it that Olaf and his mother fled to the court of St. Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev and of all Russia. Here he was trained as a Viking warrior and in 991 he joined in the Viking attacks on England.
Acclaimed as the one to make the first effective effort to Christianize Norway, Olaf was confirmed in 994 at modern-day Hampshire with his godfather Ethelred. Olaf returned to Norway following the rising revolt against the Norwegian king Haakon the Great. On Haakon’s death in 995, Olaf was crowned as king, and he imposed Christianity on the areas he controlled. He had great influence over the coast and the western islands and introduced Christianity to the Shetland, Faroe, and Orkney Islands and Iceland and Greenland, largely through baptizing visiting dignitaries and commissioning missionaries.
Olaf fell at the Battle of Svolder c. 1000, fighting the Danish king Sweyn I, the Swedish king Olaf Skötkonung, and Eric the Norwegian, earl of Lade. Large portions of Norway reverted to foreign rule following his death.
One of six sons of Ragnar Lothbrok named in the Norse sagas, Halfdan’s brothers or half-brothers included Björn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Ubba, and Hvitserk.
Halfdan led the Great Heathen Army against the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia in 865 to wreak revenge against Ælla of Northumbria alongside his brothers and half brothers to avenge their father, Ragnar. He and his followers went on to invade the mouth of the River Tyne in 874 and then took on the Picts and the Britons of Strathclyde. After distributing the region of York among his men in 876, he likely took part in the Viking campaigns in Northern Ireland. Halfdan was the first Viking King of Northumbria and a pretender to the throne of the Kingdom of Dublin. He possibly also co-ruled Denmark with his brother Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye.
He is believed to be the Danish King Albann, slain in 877 near Strangford Lough. Others believe he remained in York until 883.
Sweyn earned the name Forkbeard thanks to his long, cleft beard. He was born in 960 to Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark, and went on to become the first Viking king of England and to father Cnut the Great. He was declared King of England on Christmas Day in 1013 although he was never crowned. He ruled for just 5 weeks until his death on 3rd February 1014, going down in posterity as England’s forgotten king. Since his father converted to Christianity, Sweyn Forkbeard was baptised a Christian despite being a violent warlord, foreboding Viking warrior, and a brutal man in a brutal time. In 986 he campaigned against his own father, deposing him with the help of his ally Palnatoke. Early in the 990s, he led a campaign of fear and destruction through England in the time of Ethelred the Unready’s rule. Ethelred paid Sweyn to return leave the country in peace for Denmark and this tax became known as Danegeld.
This did not however stop the Danes from raiding in the north of England on a smaller scale and even settling there. In answer to this problem on St. Brice’s Day, November 13th, 1002, Ethelred ordered a general massacre of all Danes in England. Men, women and children were slaughtered, including Sweyn’s sister Gunhilde. Sweyn retaliated without mercy in 1003, landing in England with an invading force. King Ethelred tried to buy peace for his terrified people but the raids continued erratically until Sweyn returned in 1013 and then turned his attention to London after the locals submitted. Disillusioned with their ineffective King Ethelred, the English earls declared Sweyn as king and he was proclaimed king on Christmas Day 1013.
He died weeks later at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, on February 3rd, 1014. He was buried in England and his remains were subsequently removed to Roeskild Cathedral in Denmark. The cause of his sudden demise remains debatable. Rumours include a fall from his horse, apoplexy, and murder in his sleep by St Edmund. This latest rumour had Edmund return from the dead during the night of Candlemass to murder him with a spear. Edmund was martyred by Vikings in the 9th century. A recent archaeological find cites his remains as those discovered at Roskilde Cathedral on the site of an old wooden church built by Harald Bluetooth.
Rollo of Normandy
Not much about Rollo is certain and much is mythological and the fodder of legends at best. What is known for sure is that he was a Viking chieftain who became the founder and first ruler of the region of Normandy and that he is great-great-great grandfather to William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England. His conversion to Christianity was due to an arrangement with the Frankish king Charles the Simple in 911. Christian writers subsequently held him up as a role model and embellished upon the fact that this savage Viking chief became a paragon of Christian virtue and went on to establish law in the land.
According to Scandinavian sagas, Rollo sailed to raid Scotland, England, Flanders, and France on pirating expeditions. Rollo’s Danish army attacked France and he established himself along the Seine River. Charles III the Simple of France held off his siege of Paris and then negotiated the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, giving him the land that came to be called Normandy. It is believed that Rollo may have led the siege of Paris in 885/886 under Ragnar Lothbrok. Rollo indeed kept to his arrangement with Charles to protect the region against Viking attacks and to restore order to the land he had a hand in destroying. His rule was by the Viking code of law based on the concept of personal honour and individual responsibility through which he reformed the ineffectual laws in existence before his reign in Normandy.
He died a natural death around about 930 but is thought to have died a pagan despite being baptised a Christian.